No, You Don’t Need To Lose The Baby Weight
This year I want to be kind to myself.
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Every year for several years now I’ve made the same New Year’s resolution. It’s the resolution so many of us make, particularly when we are of a certain age, the age when our metabolism gives us the big middle finger, especially when we’ve just lived through a pandemic where kneading sourdough became a socially acceptable form of exercise and recreation. The holidays come and go in a haze of high-caloric density and family eating, and then for New Years I say to myself: This is the year I’m finally going to lose the baby weight. But is the baby weight still baby weight when the baby is starting junior high? If not, what is it then?
I’ve always had ups and downs with my weight. One of my earliest traumatic memories is of being my daughter’s age (11), and realizing all the other girls my age at the public pool where starting to wear two-piece bathing suits, and my own mother telling me I could get one, too, as soon as I took care of my tummy issue. I never wanted to be like that toward my kids. I wanted to model body-positivity and self-acceptance and a healthy attitude toward food and exercise, and mostly I feel like I’ve done that. Unfortunately, I’ve also put on about five pounds a year since becoming a parent, and after ten years, it adds up. I feel sluggish and bloated. I feel less interested in sex or trying new forms of recreation. My closet at this point is a fashion disaster. I have dark denim in enough sizes to provide the inventory for a midsize boutique. And so once again as New Year’s Eve approached I told myself that this was the year I got my act together and put the needs of my own body first. But when I shared the resolution with my daughter, she rolled her eyes and told me it was really time I worked through my body issues. Does she have a point? Am I turning into my own mother, who spent so much of her life staring down the scale in Weight Watchers meetings, constantly fighting the mom-bod that is my birth right? Or is it reasonable to want to get closer to my pre-mom weight when I felt more at home in my body, more like myself?
Mom-bodied and blue
Dear Mom-Bodied and Blue,
Let me tell you a story: When I was about 11, the same age your daughter is now and the same age your mother body-shamed you (along with probably 50% of American mothers in the 1980s), about your “problem tummy,” a wonderful, terrible thing happened to me. My mother became close friends with a new neighbor who worked for Hershey (yes, the company that makes chocolate). I don’t know exactly what her friend’s job was, only that it involved taking home copious amounts of chocolate bars of every shape and size, which she stored in their garage until it was time to do whatever it was she did with them. I would often accompany my mother to their house and it didn’t take long for me to wander off and discover this stash. It was a secret, shameful pleasure, stealing a few bars and wandering off to a private place where I’d peel back the silver cellophane and commune with the creamy, high-fructose corn syrup laden treat. This was a bad time for me. Things weren’t great at home. Things were worse at middle school. I was an 11-year-old bundle of social anxiety and low self-esteem who worried constantly about what other people thought of me, but my moments alone with those chocolate bars were pure pleasure, the only way I knew at the time of taking care of myself. Maybe I was on my way to developing a full-blown eating disorder, but the next year I went away to a camp where I made friends and felt connected and nourished in a way I hadn’t before. After that, my issues with food didn’t go away, but mellowed into something more manageable.
I thought of this the other day when another mother confided a secret pleasure, a secret stash she kept in her closet of quality, imported chocolate, Marlboro lights, and a THC vaporizer she purchased at her local dispensary that was literally called “Me-time.” Her days, she told me, consisted almost exclusively of doing things for other people: her boss, her kids, her husband, her pets, her aging parents. The 30 minutes or so she’d steal with that secret box was the only time she did something purely to make herself feel good. How many of us have similar stories, and given that we do, is it any wonder that women in a stage of life where they must sideline so many of their own needs and desires in order to meet impossible standards find it hard to also “be good” when it comes to food and exercise?
In some ways, I see where your daughter is coming from. Kids these days are lucky to be growing up in a culture that’s more accepting of and even celebrates different body types. I often find myself wondering about how different my sense of self would be if I’d grown up without the culture around me reinforcing my deep-seated belief that thinner means better. On the other hand, true body positivity seems as much about being given the time and space to take care of your body’s long-term health, a luxury so few of us are given. Maybe what’s needed is not a different New Year’s resolution but a variation on the one you have, a resolution that rather than emphasizing a number on the scale, focuses on a number of minutes or hours every day when you resolve to connect with your body and to give it whatever it needs — whether that’s dark chocolate, a hit of CBD, a long walk, a hot bath, or a healthy meal, preferably prepared by someone else. Your relationship to your weight, in other words, is ever-changing. Your relationship to yourself is forever.